Thursday, February 01, 2018

Lou Black's Living Room - a downtown nightclub that endured attack after attack

Black outside his bar fire 1964
  On might suspect that a guy who names his bar after himself is ego-tripping big time.
   So that tells you something about Lou Black's Living Room, which opened in 1960 with a capacity of 400.
   Lou was "a good looking guy," onetime acquaintance Harry Blank, now 92, tells Coolopolis.
   But Blank, who lived at 7777 Mountain Sights with his wife Nancy and at least one child, named Terry, attracted considerable hurdles in his attempts to become nightclub king.
   King owned a second-floor venue at 1475 Mansfield, a building just up from St. Catherine now long demolished and replaced.
   It aimed to be a posh joint and sat upstairs from Cafe Brazil, with the bar on the second floor and offices and dressing rooms on the third floor. Black claimed that he had been in the nightclub business since 1939.
Bouchard 1953
   The Mansfield strip was full of places like the Mansfield Hotel with its Cafe Neptune restaurant and the Sportsmen Tavern, and the Colibri cafe, a tiny Belgian eatery that became well-loved by patrons - all places detailed in the must-read Montreal 375 Tales
   Black's first big hurdle was in dealing with Conrad Boucher who attempted to intimidate and extort Black until police hauled him in, according to an article from 11 Feb. 1961.
   Bouchard was 30 at the time and living at 732 Lacasse in St. Henri. He was close to Pep Cotroni and later became an oft-jailed heroin dealer of some renown.
    Another attack followed, this time more vicious as a pair of thugs savagely assaulted Black in his bar on Nov. 17, 1962 and gave him a solid beat-down, leading to a trial that brought considerable media attention. Black was targeted with so much aggression because he had ties with the New York City Mafia, according to one person close to the scene.
   Brian Travers and Gerald McGuire were sentenced to three years each for the attack, which saw one guarding the coat check room door while the other beat on Black, in the aim of disfiguring him.
Travers 1988
   Just like Bouchard, these two assailants also became well-known in Montreal.
   Travers, a truck driver, went on to become a chauffeur for Montreal Canadiens General Manager Sam Pollock who feared flying. He was a familiar figure at the Forum and worked closely with players like Chris Nilan and Guy Lafleur.
   Gerald McGuire, sometimes known as Mickey McGuire, was the brother of Johnny McGuire, who led a powerful gang of toughs from Rosemount. Gerry later took over co-ownership of PJ's bar on Peel from his brother Johnny, who died at age 55 in 1984.
   Lou Black's Living Room carried on in spite of the turbulence, with some describing it as super posh with long lineups. Harry Ship's son Neil sometimes tells of how his rock band got a regular gig at the place.
  Neil Sheppard describes it thusly:
 The club was quite upscale. There was a large open room with a sunken type living room in the middle. There was lots of red velvet curtains and couches also a lot of gold and brass accents.
When I was brought over to Lou, remember I was 13 or 14 years old. I was taken right to the center of the sunken living room he set up there. It was the middle of the day and he was wearing a beautiful tux
He was a young premature graying good looking man with a kind smile. 
Up the stairs on one side of the room was the stage and between it and the living room were tables scattered with lamps. Along the other side was the bar. The door exits were all covered as I recall by those red velvet drapes with gold ropes and tassels.

Black's was known for its dancers, with some borrowed connection to Ship's belly-dancing Sahara Club on Sherbrooke Street.
   But Lou Black's Living Room closed after Feb 29, 1964 when a major explosion rocked the building.
   Some might have suspected that the explosion was once again the result of attack.
   In fact the explosion was caused by a gas leak. Black claimed to have lost $250,000 in the fire and attempted to sue the gas company for over $800,000.
   Another leak occurred a few days later on nearby Mansfield, costing a couple of fine old buildings.
    Lou Black then went to New York City where he launched a club, predictably called Lou Black's.
    His wife Nancy stayed in Montreal at the time and simply stopped hearing from him on June 8, 1965.
   Lou was supposed to be returning to Montreal the next day but simply disappeared according to newspaper reports. His New York City club closed a few days later.
  One old timer interviewed by Coolopolis insists that Black was killed in New York but that version is contradicted by the return of Lou Black's Living room at 310 St. Catherine West.
   The place made the news again for the wrong reasons, as 15 people, led by a disgruntled fired employee, ransacked the place on Monday 8 July 1968 at 10 p.m., causing $5000 in damages.
   Black slid into obscurity after that mention and was not heard from again.

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